Wicked Local Malden | Mar 3, 2018 | By Miranda Willson
It was the first of many joint community meetings, according to the councilors.
Nearly 20 years after the historic Malden Hospital closed its doors, the Malden Hospital Ad Hoc committees from both the Medford and Malden City Councils met for the first time on Feb. 28 to discuss the future of the 18-acre site.
Now, Medford City Councilors John Falco Jr., George Scarpelli and Breanna Lungo-Koehn, who serve on Medford’s ad hoc committee, are asking Mayor Stephanie M. Burke to form a partnership with Malden Mayor Gary Christensen to engage in discussions with MelroseWakefield Healthcare, formerly Hallmark Health, the site’s owner.
The councilors voted unanimously to make that request at the meeting, as well as to ask the city administration to survey residents about what they want – and don’t want – to see on the Malden Hospital site, part of which crosses the Medford border.
Also present at the meeting were Malden City Councilors John Matheson, David Camell and Debbie DeMaria, and approximately 40 residents of Malden and of the Fulton Heights and North Medford neighborhoods. But community engagement won’t end there, the Medford councilors promised; they voted to plan another meeting of the two ad hoc committees sometime in the spring.
“This is just the beginning,” said Falco, who chairs the committee.
The City of Malden has sent out multiple surveys to determine residents’ visions for the site, and to learn people’s concerns. Nearly 80 percent of residents who responded to the survey said they would like to see some green space preserved, according to Matheson, and 73 percent do not want to see any apartment buildings on the site.
Scarpelli suggested the City of Medford get to work on similar surveys.
“We need as an ad hoc committee to jump in, and ask the city administration to get our neighbors and our community more invested in what’s going on,” he said. “This side will be actively working diligently in the next couple months to make sure our seat at the table is heard.”
One developer, Fellsmere Housing Group, has made several bids for the site. FHG’s most recent bid would convert the hospital buildings into a total of 250 condominiums, while preserving two-thirds of the site as open space, said Matheson, who represents the area of Malden that encompasses the hospital.
Christensen is asking his City Council to consider the most recent proposal, which would require a zoning change, as the area is zoned for single-family homes. But Matheson said he wants to make sure the community, and especially the Ward 3 residents who live near the site, would support the proposal.
“I don’t foresee a zoning change [approval] until we come up with a community proposal that works for us,” Matheson said. “Because I, for one, as a Ward 3 councilor, am not going to support a zoning change to accommodate a developer. I would only support a zoning change if it serves the community.”
Meanwhile, the non-profit, grassroots organization Friends of Fellsmere Heights has been advocating for a different use of the site. The group, which consists of Medford and Malden residents who live near the hospital, hopes that the two cities could acquire the Malden Hospital by leveraging funding from public and private sources and possibly Community Preservation Act funds.
Their working vision for the site is to preserve 16 acres as open space and build 60 housing units and a community center on the remaining two acres.
“What we’re trying to do is find a palatable plan that is fiscally feasible ... and something that can work with both communities,” said Prisco Tammaro, the president of Friends of Fellsmere Heights.
Traffic in the neighborhood near the Malden Hospital is the biggest concern for residents in both communities, according to the councilors and community members present at the meeting. Whatever the Malden Hospital becomes, residents do not want to see an increase in traffic to an area that is already inundated with cars during rush hour.
“There are many quality of life concerns – density, and traffic seems to be the real major concern,” Falco said.
The Medford councilors voted to have the Medford Police Department update a traffic study that was done in November 2016 to assess traffic flow on Murray Hill Road. The results of the first study indicated that during the peak traffic hour of 7-8 a.m., over 3,254 cars drove down the street every day of the 12-day study at an average speed of 28 miles per hour.
But the study might not have been reflective of the traffic patterns in the area, councilors and residents said, because it was done partially during Thanksgiving weekend. For this reason, Medford Police Officer Carl Brooks, who was present at the meeting, agreed to re-do the study and to study some others streets in that area.
In addition to traffic concerns, some residents at the meeting asked how the two cities would fund the site’s redevelopment if it is mostly converted to a public park – a question that Malden has been grappling with for some time. It will cost approximately $4 million to demolish and clean the site, Matheson said, and many developers would want to create multi-family homes and luxury apartments in order to make a profit from redeveloping the site.
“What we have is a classic market failure,” Matheson said. “And when you experience a market failure, that’s why governments come together to help be a part of the solution.”
One Medford resident asked why the cities cannot force MelroseWakefield to help fund the costs of demolition given that it has allowed the site to fall into disrepair.
“MelroseWakefield has benefited from being a tax exempt organization and the reason they’re tax exempt is because they’re supposed to contribute to the community,” she said. “I think the initial fall-down was them allowing the building to be put in the condition it’s in.”
Matheson said he agreed with her point and noted that since he became a councilor, the land has been taxed as a for-profit entity. Malden previously tried to hold the company accountable, asking it to fix its deteriorating safety sprinkler system, fire alarm and emergency lighting, but MelroseWakefield refused, took the city to court and won in May 2017.
With the new joint efforts of both cities, Matheson is hopeful that MelroseWakefield will improve its conduct.
“I think it’s important they own up to their actions,” he said. “I’ve repeatedly written to both CEOs asking for them to come to the table.”
For now, both cities will continue to meet and gather feedback from their communities, and then figure out how to finance a plan for the site that the majority of residents support.